Joeseph Finder’s Tips for Writers

I recently had the pleasure of attending a lecture at The Center for Fiction given
by Joseph Finder, The New York Times Best Selling Author. He shared his story
—a fascinating one—of how he went from working for the CIA to writing thrillers.

51e-V7ZwpwL._AA160_He also shared his10 Tips for Writers from which he believes every writer can benefit. Here’s a summary:

1. Rejection can be useful. It can prompt you to do more work and get it to the right      editor.
2.   Be stubborn but be smart about it and be persistent.
3.  Learn to value criticism. It can give you good feedback.
4.  The best fiction is about character, not plot. The plot should arise from the character.
5.   Avoid backstory dump. It takes people out of the story.
6.   Every scene should do some work Ask yourself why is it there.
7.   Reveal. Surprise. Cut out the slow parts.
8.   Never underestimate your readers. Surprise them rather than fool them.
9.   Just write the book. Don’t get hung up in the prose or the words.

10. Get lucky. Hopefully get in front of the right people at the right time.

I’ve read several of Joe’s books and have enjoyed them all very much. His last thriller, THE FIXER, a stand alone, certainly proves he takes his own advice.

How about you? What, if any, rules do you apply to your writing? We’d love to know.

Stay At Home Writer

A month and a half ago, I left my full-time job. Woo hoo, I thought, now I’ll have more than enough time fojpg_BPA0225r full-time writing and I’ll finish my new novel in a New York minute. Well, not so fast.

Even though the whole day is mine, stretching out before me like the road to Oz, there seem to be so many other things that muscle in on my writing time.

There are errands and food shopping—a person has to eat, right?

Or catching up with friends who were always worried I’d be too busy for a conversation.
And of course, the triple threat: Email, Facebook and Twitter. They reach out to me the moment I sit down at the computer. I could justify all this attention paid to social media as beneficial input rather than procrastination. Sort of.

There seem to be hundreds of obstacles that get in the way of writing my work in progress, including writing about not writing it.

I guess I’m still getting used to finding a routine. When I was working, I got everything in, including writing time. Maybe it was because I knew I had to make it fit; that my opportunities weren’t as numerous as the day is long
.

So how about you? What’s your writing routine and how do you make it work?

Writer Readings in Long Island City

Last Saturday was a beautiful day and made even nicer by a trip to Long Island City to listen to the work of writers from Queens, including two of our Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writes or America authors: Terrie Farley Moran, also a Woman of Mystery, and Laura Joh Rowland.

Reading at the LIC bar, both Terrie and Laura gave us an up close look into their writing.
IMG_1709Terrie read her short story, “The Sneaker Tree,” a Queens based tale, published in the Sisters in Crime Anthology, MURDER NEW YORK STYLE: FRESH SLICES, which she also edited. The story about the death of a young woman’s mother just before 911, pointed out how one death can be eclipsed by the death of many and how that one will forever be overshadowed by what followed it, except in the heart of her daughter.

LauraLaura, the author of 18 Sano Ichiro novels set in Feudal Japan, gave us a glimpse into her wip, THE CIRCLE OF SHADOWS. Set in Victorian England, the chapters she read focused on a female photographer who’d taken pictures of a prostitute who later turns up dead. Unwilling to get involved with the police, she keeps silent about the dead woman’s name, knowing the pictures she took are against the law.

There are many other books by these two award-winning writers. All available online or in your favorite bookstore.

Madam President and Her PI

Don’t you love it when you find a new series you truly enjoy? Not only are you reading something between new releases, you can add a new writer to your list of favorites. I’ve very much enjoying the exploits and investigations  in Joseph Flynn’s Jim McGill series. A former Chicago cop, Jim is now married to the first female president of the United States, and instead of cutting ribbons and organizing luncheons, he is a licensed private investigator, with an office on P Street in Washington, D.C.

McGill1Jim is referred to as The President’s Henchman, which is also the title of the first book. In this one, we’re introduced to the ensemble cast that makes these books so entertaining. In addition to Jim, there’s Patricia Darden Grant, the president, Jim’s ex-wife and three children, along with her new husband, Sweetie, Jim’s longtime partner who now works with him, along with various politicians, Secret Service agents, military personnel, and the president’s staff.

I’ve read the first two books and am deeply into the third book. This series is quickly moving up the list of my favorites. When I finish these books, I plan to check out the two otherMcGill1 series Flynn has. I’m happy as a clam that I found something new to read during one of my lulls. If you love mysteries, I think you’ll enjoy these books too.

Have you found any new authors this summer? Share and we’ll all have plenty to read until the fall releases!

Opening Lines: A First Impression

large_open_bookIn a recent Huffington Post Blog, author Mark Rubinstein, talks about the power the opening sentences of a novel have to grab the reader and pull them into the story.

With examples from authors as diverse as Charles Dickens and David Morrell, we see how they structured their opening lines to make us want to read on.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the craft of novel writing and just how important a good opening is in making that first impression, not only in enticing your readers, but also in setting the premise of the story to come.

Some of my favorite first few sentences are from the novel BACKSEAT SAINTS by Joshilyn Jackson, the story of a young woman who’s finding her way back to herself.

“It was an airport gypsy who told me that I had to kill my husband. She may have been the first to say the words out loud, but she was only giving voice to a thing I’d been trying not to know for a long, long time.”

I read on, curious to find out whom the protagonist was and if she was really going to do the deed, why. I won’t tell you here, but I think you’d find it fun to read the book.

Here are a few sentences from a novel I’m working on, OUT OF TIME. It features
Nick Donahue, the protagonist from the novella, NICK OF TIME.

“Just ask Marina.
If you want to know how I wound tethered like a sacrificial goat to a flimsy spire swaying
in the wind on top of the world’s tallest building, maybe she can explain it.
Because I definitely can’t.”

How about you? Any first sentences that drew you in? Or, any that you’re working on?
We’d love to know.

I Spy With A Writer’s Eye

gallery-thumbnails.phpA recent blog post from thriller and suspense author Ed Kovacs, discussed gadgets every thriller/spy novelist should have at their disposal. Many were digital and some seemed items you would think of immediately, such as a camcorder watch for undercover videos and a smart phone, a great multi-tasker, while others, such as four-cipher locks and hide safes were things I hadn’t heard of before.

As you may know from previous posts, I’ve always wanted to be a spy. So, I decided to do a little research and add my own must have spy items, if not for myself, for the next time one of my characters goes undercover.

Here are my results:
Night vision goggles, perfect for stakeouts

Voice activated recorder pen, so you never miss a word

Air freshener hidden security camera, for those hard to spy on settings

Tripwire, the invisible alarm

A drone, for the complete overview

And a pair of oversize dark sunglasses for glamorous camouflage

Now that I’ve amassed these items (figuratively that is) I’ll have to write a story
in which to use them.

How about you? Have any equipment your sleuth could use on a case? Let us know.

Well Heeled An Emily’s Place Mystery

51tKXwGTGSL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_A few weeks ago, Roz Siegel, one of our Sisters In Crime (the group from which this blog arose), gave us a preview of the first chapter of her new novel, Well Heeled. It was so funny and witty it had me  pacing the floor in anticipation of the rest. Now, that I’ve read the entire novel, available on Amazon, I can truly say the pacing was worth it.

If Emily’s Place existed in reality on Manhattan’s Upper East Side instead of in fiction on its Upper West Side, I’d certainly be a customer. Not only for the great deals on Manolo’s, Jimmy Choo’s and Louboutin’s but to chat with Emily herself. Siegel has captured the spirit of her protagonist and her neighborhood and brought it to life. I could easily visualize Emily stocking the shelves, dealing with her customers and walking along its brownstone-lined blocks.

The cast of colorful characters that inhabit the novel are just that—a variety of West Side  characters who patronize her store looking for bargains or just stop by for a cup of coffee. When one of them, Sophia Sarfatti, a long time customer, complains about her shoe being uncomfortable, Emily looks into it and finds a fistful of diamonds secreted in the heel. When Sophia turns up dead and things begin to heat up.

The shoes were a find for Emily who bought them for a good price from a neighborhood kid who got them when they “fell off a truck.” As things progress, Emily scrambles to get back the other pairs she’s sold. As she does, she becomes involved with the Italian mafia, the Russian mob and several neighborhood pals, any one of whom could be a murderer. The only saving grace is that all this running around puts her in the path of Murphy the Cop, who she met when she helped him nab a killer and would definitely like to get to know better.

Well Heeled is the second book in Roz’s Emily’s Place Mystery series following Goodie One Shoe, but can be read as a stand alone. And, I for one, am tapping my foot as I type this, impatient for Emily to step out again.

 

Elvis is in the Building

WebbElvis is back, and he’s on the case. In the seventh book of her series about Elvis the bloodhound, Peggy Webb has another great cozy mystery. Elvis and the Buried Brides has the Valentine girls, Callie and Lovie, getting ready for the big renewal of vows for Callie and Jack.

Elvis is beyond thrilled to know that his human parents are finally getting back together. Though Callie and Jack have been separated for quite awhile, neither of them ever felt motivated enough to sign the divorce papers. However, everything is topsy-turvy when Callie and Lovie don’t show up at the church.

Peggy has another winner with this little book, and there’s a bonus short story included too. Southern humor abounds in this series, and it’s always enjoyable. From Fayrene’s bad case of malapropism to the antics of Callie’s salon customer, these characters become old friends in no time.

Fayrene trots over to me, wearing so many green sequins I’m nearly blinded.

“We’re headed home, Callie, but I want you to know I’ve got everything ready for your wedding deception.”

“I’ve got his favorite German chocolate cake and Jarvetis had such good luck on his hunting trip to Missouri I’m serving peasants under glass.”

Thank goodness I’m not eating a second helping of the red velvet cake Lovie is handing out to department guests, or I might choke to death trying to hold in laughter.

Mama prances up and gives me a big hug. “I’m so happy I’m about to die!”

“Ruby Nell Valentine, wash your mouth out with soap!” Fayrene says. “The mere thought of another death at a wedding makes me want to fall into heart dropsy on my sexual sofa.”

“Flitter, Fayrene. I was just kidding around.” Mama puffs up her hair that doesn’t need a thing, thanks to my expertise with scissors and blow dryer. “What do you think about my hair, Cal?”

“You know perfectly well what I think about your hair, Mama. It’s gorgeous, even if I do say so myself.”

The Valentine ladies are always in a mess, but, thank goodness Elvis is there is sniff out the problem. This book will stand alone, but I think you’ll enjoy it more if you read the entire series.

Making the Best Seller List

thLike most writers I know, i’d love to see my name on the Best Seller list. We work hard to make our stories interesting and compelling. We find our voice and create plots with amazing characters (at least to us) who inhabit terrific settings. Stories we hope will rack up the sales and offer us fame and fortune so that one day, our names will be on The List.

In an interview with Sophie Kinsella, author of the Shopaholic series,the BBC News Entertainment and Arts section listed the author’s Ten Tips for being a Best Selling Author. From starting a story and getting to the end to finding an agent, her advice can help with navigating the road to that elusive Best Seller list.

What about you? Any tips you’d like to share?

Do Reading Levels Matter?

stack of booksThe other day as I was reading through the latest issue of SinC Links, one story jumped out and got my attention. Written by Shane Snow and published online at Contently.com, it dealt with Reading Level Analysis.

The author asked the question of whether reading level analysis of your work would change the way you write. Putting a chapter of his own work through the Flesch-Kincaid readability formula, he found he was writing at the 8th grade level. But he wasn’t alone. He also put Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea through the program and was surprised to see that work was scored at a 4th grade level.

In the article you’ll find a chart in which he tested the reading level of a few dozen authors from best-selling fiction authors, to non-fiction writers, to those writing academic documents and used several programs to calculate ease of readability. For fiction, none of the authors wrote above a 9th grade level. For non-fiction and academic work the level was a little higher. While many people assume that a higher reading level means better writing, the lower score seems to indicate commercial success and how good people believe a writer to be.

I thought I’d take the test for myself and put the first chapter of my WIP, a Nick Donahue Adventure, into the Flesch-Kincaid program. The results are for that program as well as a few others.

Flesch Reading Ease score: 82.1 (text scale)
Flesch Reading Ease scored your text: easy to read.

Gunning Fog: 7.5 (text scale)
Gunning Fog scored your text: fairly easy to read.

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 5.4
Grade level: Fifth Grade.

The Coleman-Liau Index: 6
Grade level: Sixth Grade

The SMOG Index: 5.4
Grade level: Fifth Grade

Automated Readability Index: 4.9
Grade level: 8-9 yrs. old (Fourth and Fifth graders)

Linsear Write Formula : 7
Grade level: Seventh Grade.

Readability Consensus
Based on 8 readability formulas, we have scored your text:
Grade Level: 6

Reading Level: easy to read.
Reader’s Age: 10-11 yrs. olds (Fifth and Sixth graders)

Here’s a breakdown of what all that means:

  1. The Flesch Reading Ease formula will output a number from 0 to 100 – a higher score indicates easier reading. An average document has a Flesch Reading Ease score between 6 – 70.
    As a rule of thumb, scores of 90-100 can be understood by an average 5th grader. 8th and 9th grade students can understand documents with a score of 60-70; and college graduates can understand documents with a score of 0-30.
  2. The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level outputs a U.S. school grade level; this indicates the average student in that grade level can read the text. For example, a score of 7.4 indicates that the text is
    understood by an average student in 7th grade.
  3. The Fog Scale (Gunning FOG Formula) is similar to the Flesch scale in that it compares syllables and sentence lengths. A Fog score of 5 is readable, 10 is hard, 15 is difficult and 20 is very difficult. Based on its name, ‘Foggy’ words are words that contain 3 or more syllables.
  4. The SMOG Index outputs a U.S. school grade level; this indicates the average student in that grade level can read the text. For example, a score of 7.4 indicates that the text is understood by an average student in 7th grade.
  5. The Coleman-Liau Index relies on characters instead of syllables per word and sentence length. This formula will output a grade. For example, 10.6 means your text is appropriate for a 10-11th grade high school student.
  6. Automated Readability Index outputs a number which approximates the grade level needed to comprehend the text. For example, if the ARI outputs the number 3, it means students in 3rd grade (ages 8-9 yrs. old) should be able to comprehend the text.
  7. Linsear Write Formula is a readability formula for English text, originally developed
    for the United States Air Force to help them calculate the readability of their technical manuals. Linsear Write Formula is specifically designed to calculate the United States grade level of a text sample based on sentence length and the number words used that have three or more syllables.

Although I didn’t think I was writing for the pre-teen set, that’s where my work seems to fall.
And maybe it’s not such a bad thing. As the article goes on suggests, we shouldn’t discount simple  writing as long as we make it interesting.

How about you? Have any of you done this type of analysis?